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Dolphins deserve same rights as humans, say scientists (bbc.co.uk)
126 points by zosimus on Nov 5, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 189 comments



>> They believe dolphins and whales are sufficiently intelligent to justify the same ethical considerations as humans.

I don't have a problem with extending legal protection to dolphins, but I do think that "intelligence" as the criteria is morally problematic, at least if it's the sole criteria.

For instance, could a person with Down's Syndrome be denied protection from murder?

The Christian worldview holds that human life has value intrinsically because God values it. Whether you agree with this or not, I hope you'd want to avoid drawing moral conclusions such as "my life is more valuable than my neighbor's because I'm obviously smarter."

Especially considering how slippery the definition of "intelligence" is.


"Especially considering how slippery the definition of 'intelligence' is."

I think 'intelligence' represents how slippery all concepts are. Think about the definition of intelligence. According to the most common scientific definition, it's basically the ability to see patterns. The funny thing about that is that the ability to see patterns is basically what makes someone a good scientist, so scientists have defined 'intelligence' to mean having the potential to be good at science. Similarly, if you look at the CIA, intelligence means having information about enemy countries, because that's what makes a good CIA officer. If you were to ask a painter about the definition of intelligence, they'd probably tell you that it has something to do with being good at painting.

All words are defined by the types of people who are most likely to spend time thinking about the definition of that word, which means that essentially every concept in the every language is fundamentally biased by the worldview of the sort of person who would spend time thinking about that concept. And since science, logic, and knowledge are fundamentally based on these concepts in terms of looking for what to talk about and measure, I think this may be a serious epistemological problem that leaves humans capped at a certain level in terms of what we can know.

This is also why I'm generally skeptical of sites like Less Wrong, as I think the real limits of rationality and human knowledge have almost nothing to do with the 'official' list of logical fallacies that these sites tend to focus on.


So... the definition given by people whose job is doing research on intelligence must be the right one?

I took Latin in high school because I liked etymology (and because greek letters were really too weird):

From Latin intellegentia ("the act of choosing between, intelligence"), from intellegō ("understand"), from inter ("between") + legō ("choose, pick out, read"). [taken from wiktionnary]

So intelligence is the ability to understand, that's all (the etymologic link with dichotomy is beautiful).

Now how we understand (and please don't confuse yourself again with "oh yeah but what does 'understand' really mean") is the hard part.


Their view is not that intelligence makes your life more worthwhile, but that there is a threshold of species intelligence which makes that species "persons".

Note the focus on a species, rather than individuals.


When cetaceans let us know that they will mutually honor some sort of Interspecies Protective Treaty, I will be the first in line to support the move that they should have similar protections to people.

Until then, I don't want to see such beautiful intelligent creatures harmed -- but murder/manslaughter charges would be inappropriate if one were inadvertently killed.

The current animal protection/endangered species protection rules are sufficient.


There is a implied statement that cetaceans would somehow need to learn English to receive similar protections as people.

This is of course a really bad requirement. A lot of people in the world do not know English, and would thus be unable to let anyone know that they will mutually honor some sort of Interspecies Protective Treaty. Mostly, they would be unable to read any such treaty, or reply with the word "yes".

First create a requirement that all human being will pass. Then see if cetaceans do pass it.


There is a implied statement that cetaceans would somehow need to learn English to receive similar protections as people.

English? Where did I say that?

However, communication verbal or nonverbal that conveys agreement to participate in a society is a requirement.

This kind of communication would need to happen either individually or representatives cetaceans would need to come forward who could vouch for others of their species. From there, we'd need to observe whether or not the agreement(s) were being followed. This starts to sound silly, doesn't it? But that's what being a member of a society entails. That's what being "human" or reasonably equivalent to oen entails.


Why do they have to participate in our society in order to be protected from torture/murder/slavery/etc? The point of this article is that they have their own society and should not be made our playthings.

I'm also not sure why they would need to agree to some kind of treaty with humans just to be spared our cruelty. There's no evidence they mean us harm, we have the ability to protect ourselves if they did, let's just leave them alone.


Why do they have to participate in our society in order to be protected from torture/murder/slavery/etc?

That's a strawman. The proposal was to give Dolphins "the same rights as humans".

Protection of the creatures from hunting and physical exploitation is sufficient and something normally agreed to through international treaties. Equating cetaceans with humans is unnecessary and illogical.


No, the proposal is to give cetaceans the rights of life and liberty. Humans have quite a few other rights. Animals have no rights whatsoever.

The proposal is not equating humans and cetaceans. It is stating that cetaceans are close enough to humans that we should respect their life and not treat them a property. One hopes that an alien species landing on Earth would feel the same about humans...


This too will sound silly, but we don't even know if that would happen or could happen with Dolphins and Whales, because they've really just never been given the chance. It'd be like someone invading a new land they discovered, and just killing anyone in their way, without waiting to see if these people would indeed like to participate in their 'society'. But actually, on top of that, even if the dolphins could say they'd participate in this required society - why would it be deemed appropriate for the humans to make the rules here?


If you call something a treaty, isn't it expected to be discussed and agreed upon by both sides?

Humans have to make the first step and propose a first draft because of their current position of power. Unfortunately, cetaceans so far haven't taken time to try to learn how to communicate with humans. A treaty with cetaceans would be a display of pure goodwill, as opposed to e.g. peace treaties between mutually menacing powers.

Another interesting question is how many treaties are needed, since cetaceans are obviously no more unified than humans.


> The current animal protection/endangered species protection rules are sufficient.

The recently and soon to be extinct species would disagree with you.

Also, if homo sapiens had the same levels of "protection" I'd be able to cull yuppies when too many of them moved into my neighborhood.


A quick google search provides plenty of examples of dolphins rescuing humans.


I believe their argument stems not so much from the intelligence of cetaceans -- as others have pointed out, intelligence is hard to define -- but from evidence that they are self-aware, conscious beings.


Richard Dawkins wrote a short article a while back arguing exactly this point: http://boingboing.net/2011/06/30/richard-dawkins-on-v.html . Of particular interest is his point that it's completely plausible that less intelligent animals would suffer more, in direct contrast to common belief.


I always saw this question as one of sentience, not intelligence. Certainly there are computers that exceed human levels of intelligence at certain tasks today, but none are sentient.

The things that I have been thinking a lot about lately are --

What happens when natural death is reduced by 99% and human levels of intelligence are extended to countless genetically customized biological lifeforms?

Do sentient computers that consume non-renewable resources have the right to reproduce and live? Who would enforce either option?

I think we are at the early stages of experiencing a paradigm change in human philosophy. In some part, because much of traditional human beliefs simply hold no foundation with reality (religious and otherwise.) Secondly, the things that were distant science fiction now exist or is within reach. The Star Wars/Star Trek view of the future and space travel mere decades later has become archaic.

I happened to read "The Age of Spiritual Machines" by Ray Kurzweil over a decade ago. It completely changed my thought process in regards to much of life. (I doubt without it I would have been as strongly convicted about dropping out of college and starting an internet business.) As technology has advanced since then, I believe it has kept my thinking a step beyond where it would have been otherwise.

The average person, even equipped with the latest smartphone, is unequipped to deal with these radical changes. Children can no longer look to their parents for patterns on how to live their lives, because their parents lives will not remotely resemble their own.

These are very good opportunities for start ups.


"Children can no longer look to their parents for patterns on how to live their lives"

This stands for at least a century when the big shift from the village to the city occured. I'd say it wasn't any less radical than the shifts ahead us. Maybe a bit more radical even.


The Christian worldview holds that human life has value intrinsically because God values it.

Protecting helpless/non-contributing life was happening long before Christianity.

Protecting helpless/non-contributing life is seen in almost all vertebrate+ life forms and seems to be a requirement for species advancement. The alligator mother allows its spawn to swim in and out of its mouth for protection, it doesn't eat them even though it could.

For instance, could a person with Down's Syndrome be denied protection from murder?

As thinking, social beings, we've extended the umbrella of protecting life to members of our species that are functionally disabled, even to the point where they can't take care of themselves.

It would be a significantly slippery slope hole in our Social Contract if we started trying to define who can and can't be murdered based upon genetic mutations.


> The alligator mother allows its spawn to swim in and out of its mouth for protection

Protecting offspring, and relatives more generally, is an expected consequence of natural selection. It doesn't require any kind of intelligence, compassion, or even consciousness. Witness the many ways plants invest in protecting their seeds, for example.

What's interesting in this context is caring for the elderly, disabled or injured. The article mentions a case where a killer whale with a broken jaw was fed by other members of its pod. As far as I know, this kind of behaviour is only known in a few large mammal species.


Protecting other members of the social group is also an expected consequence of natural selection. Animals form social groups for survival reasons and caring for disabled members is a natural consequence.

Wolves lick each others wounds, for example.

Although the behavior evidenced by cetaceans is fascinating, it just isn't societally important enough to justify the push by the AAS to recognize them as fundamentally equivalent to people.


What's interesting is where it appears to go beyond what natural selection would favour - caring for individuals who won't be able to hunt and provide food again.

Of course, nothing in biology is that simple. The individuals could have some other use, such as navigational memory. The carers could be gaining reputation, i.e. they'll get more benefits from other members of the group. Or it could be an evolutionary 'accident': the injured or weak individual triggers a response that evolved to restore a productive member of the group, even if it won't work in that case.

You can make similar arguments about human altruism. But in some cases, the most simple explanation is a personal relationship between individuals and a sense of compassion.

I don't have strong feelings either way about the initiative in the linked article. But I'm fascinated by the questions of consciousness and how we assess it.


beyond what natural selection would favour

Not really. The Social constructs are beneficial to gene survival. If a woolly mammoth injures you, I take care of you because I have a social bond that works both ways. Prehistoric me does not necessarily understand if the injury is permanent, but our bond is there to assume that the help I'm giving you will be conferred upon me or my offspring at some point.

Love, cooperation, and compassion are (situationally) survival traits.

When you consider further that individual survival isn't as important as genetic survival, you can see that social behaviors are selected for in animals capable of exhibiting them to some degree.


>> As thinking, social beings, we've extended the umbrella of protecting life to members of our species that are functionally disabled, even to the point where they can't take care of themselves.

You say that as though the matter has been completely and definitively decided. In fact, humans often disregard that protection and hurt harmless people. Which is why moral debates are still being had, and why it's worth asking about the philosophical underpinnings of a moral position.

I suggested that Christianity offers such underpinnings. You may suggest alternate ones, but I think it would be naive to say that no such moral arguments are necessary because Nature Takes Care Of It.


Your opinion is correct but don't drag Christianity here. Christianity did enough violence on the name of non-violent Jesus. Better you talk of universal human values.


>> Your opinion is correct but don't drag Christianity here. Christianity did enough violence on the name of non-violent Jesus. Better you talk of universal human values.

I understand your sentiment, but 1) you're making an "ad hominem" against Christianity, which I could argue is not justified but in any case is not pertinent, and 2) what you're asking ultimately doesn't make sense.

We're having a discussion about what is or is not moral. Any answer you can give necessarily depends on views which can only be classified as religious, even if you are a purely a materialist; they involve the purpose of existence, what it means to be human, etc.

Consider this exchange:

A: "We should not commit genocide." B: "Why?" A: "Because protecting life is a universal human value." B: "It's not universal if I don't agree with it. Why should I care?" A: "Because we can't survive as a species unless we protect one another." B: "What if I don't care about the species, but only about myself?" A: "Genocide is still wrong. You shouldn't do it." B: "Says who?"

Ultimately A has to answer "there is a larger moral principle outside of you which, whether you agree with it or not, you are obligated to obey", which is a religious statement.

The only other option is "many of us prefer that you don't do this and we will use force to stop you." That's pragmatic, but it's not about morality at all; it could just as well be applied to playing the bagpipes.

You can't exclude religion from moral debates because morality is inherently about religion.


I don't classify my views as religious, although I do classify mine as moral.

Existence doesn't have a purpose. Existence simply "is". Purpose (in general) is the goals of pre-planned actions taken by intelligent agents acting to achieve specific ends through whatever agencies they believe themselves to control.

My answer to what is moral is to undertake actions that work to achieve those ends, as opposed to random junk and hoping for the best. Moral is to think, not accept dogma. For me, that is the exact opposite of religion.


I agree that religion has a place in this debate, but I don't think morality is inherently about religion. I'm not religious, but I do consider myself moral.

I don't know precisely where we get morals from without religion. Clearly it can't be as simple as what the majority prefers: the phrase the tyranny of the majority refers to the problem with that.

We have a deep seated sense of fairness, even without religion. A recent experiment put two monkeys within sight of each other. One did a task and was given a piece of food, then the other did the same task and got a much tastier piece of food. The first does the task again, and again gets the low-value food, but this time he threw it back at the experimenter and beat the bars of the cage, trying to reach the high-value food. That sense seems likely to be where our concept of morality comes from.


I do not deny the (apparent)link between morality and religions but morality, specially non-violence, neither exist/ed only in Christianity, nor it was introduced by Christianity, nor Christianity was/is the largest proponent of it, so what warrants special mention?


Religious arguments or justifications would be laughed out of any ethics class. Regardless of what the other merits of religion may or may not be (not relevant to this discussion), they do not aid these types of discussions.

Any relevant principles can be talked about without a religious carrier signal; including it only serves to alienate those who do not share the same beliefs.


Morality is only inherently religious if your diety is human society. Otherwise religion only impacts morality in the way that its doctrines are passed on by that society.

Person B is not fundamentally immoral, only by the standards of a society and if his moral framework is incompatible with his society then they will leave or be terminated.


He has the right to talk about whatever he likes. This is an open discussion.


I don't think he was asserting he lacked the right, merely suggesting that he refrain from exercising it.


Do you realize the irony of telling others what to think or say?


> For instance, could a person with Down's Syndrome be denied protection from murder?

Since nobody seems to have given a straight answer to this, I will. Someone with Down's Syndrome easily counts as an intelligent being, and is not even close to any borderline.

I suppose your question assumes that, since intelligence comes in degrees, any value based on it must also come in degrees. But instead, most people who see personhood this way believe in some sort of threshold above which everyone deserves equal protection.


OK, is it wrong to kill a stranger in a coma or PVS? They are less intelligent than dogs.


People can wake up from coma, I take it. But in cases where damage to the brain is so extensive that we can reasonably say all capacity for future thought has been lost, the primary worry really is just for the wishes of the family.

The medical establishment, at least where I live, tends to take the view that there's no intrinsic value in trying to prolong the life of such a body.


In more extreme cases where emotional identification breaks down, I think it is clear that the lack of brain functioning is identified with a loss of humanity, even if other bodily facilities are still more or less operational.

Now, are dolphins at the same level as vegetable humans? Clearly not. Is the bar to which we hold them higher than that, since we lack the same emotional connections? I suspect, in reality, yes.


We need a metric by which to make these decisions, and intelligence is a good start. But note the logic only works in one direction: if you're intelligent enough, you get these ethical considerations, but if you're not intelligent enough that doesn't mean you don't get these considerations. The Down's Syndrome comment is not relevant to the discussion.


I think the point with intelligence is to show that dolphins, the species, are closer to humans, than (say) worms.


I'm very comfortable with this in the general case; I feel guilty eating bacon because pigs seem pretty smart. Still, rights always come paired up with responsibilities. Do we then try dolphins for rape or murder?

Rather than saying certain categories of animals should have the same rights as humans, maybe we'd be better off saying certain categories of animals deserve a higher level of ethical and legal consideration.


Western legal systems tend to only recognizes two types of entities, persons and property. Those entities to which personhood is extended have rights, all else does not.

We punish those who are cruel to animals, not because we attribute personhood to them, but because of the impact animal cruelty has upon persons collectively (society at large). Criminalization of animal cruelty is no more based on the rights of animals than the criminalization of throwing litter from a car is based on the rights of curbs.

On the other hand, ethical considerations are not dependent upon legislation. One may choose to forgo killing a cockroach based upon inherent respect for it as a living creature.


> We punish those who are cruel to animals, not because we attribute personhood to them, but because of the impact animal cruelty has upon persons collectively (society at large).

Are you sure this is correct? I'm fairly sure cruelty to animals is punished purely because of ethical considerations for the animal's well being.


If this was the case, then we would be as tolerant toward the house cat who plays with the bird before killing it without eating it as we would be toward a human who acted likewise.

The well being of an animal is no better after a slow cruel death than a quick painless one. When well being comes into play we tend to prohibit killing specifically and instrumental uses in general, as is the case with humans.

The free range chicken on your plate is no less dead than one raised under factory conditions which make us feel better about ourselves. Neither has any more being to which degrees of wellness may be applied.


>If this was the case, then we would be as tolerant toward the house cat who plays with the bird before killing it without eating it as we would be toward a human who acted likewise.

I don't think that's fair. It's more that we recognise the futility in punishing a house cat, which is incapable of changing its ways nor of comprehending the pain it inflicts.


Killing the cat would change it's ways.


Slight tangent:

> the house cat who plays with the bird before killing it without eating it

Small birds have sharp beaks and claws. Mice have sharp teeth and claws.

Cats have a hunting instinct. Wild cats survive by hunting. To hunt and eat prey a cat needs working jaws.

The sharp teeth / beak / claws of prey only needs to puncture the skin of a cat's jaw once to cause infection which would leave that cat at serious risk of death, if not from infection then from lack of food because of reduced hunting.

"Playing" with the prey is a good way to weaken the prey before the killing bite is inflicted.


>"Playing" with the prey is a good way to weaken the prey before the killing bite is inflicted.

No it isn't, it extends the amount of time the prey is alive and capable of causing harm, and the amount of contact between predator and prey. Domestic animals play with prey because they still have deeply ingrained hunting instinct, but have no actual need to hunt. This is why they will hunt a laser pointer just as intently as a mouse. They aren't after food, just reacting to instinct.


> No it isn't,

Yes, really, it is.

> it extends the amount of time the prey is alive and capable of causing harm, and the amount of contact between predator and prey.

No. It keeps the cat's jaw (which is the part that delivers the killing bite, and which is the part that does the eating) away from the beak and teeth and claws, while the paws do batting and patting. It increases the chance of getting a kill, which is what gives the cat food after the hunt.

> Domestic animals play with prey because they still have deeply ingrained hunting instinct, but have no actual need to hunt.

That does not explain why feral cats, cats that need to hunt to survive, play with prey.

> This is why they will hunt a laser pointer just as intently as a mouse. They aren't after food, just reacting to instinct.

Chasing a laser point just demonstrates the hunting instinct. We both agree that cats still have a strong hunting instinct. Hunting a laser pointer is chasing prey, it is not playing with prey.


>Yes, really, it is.

Your premise is not supported by evidence. One "researcher" made this claim, and provided no evidence to support it. There is nothing to support the notion that playing with prey reduces injuries to the predator.

>It keeps the cat's jaw (which is the part that delivers the killing bite, and which is the part that does the eating) away from the beak and teeth and claws, while the paws do batting and patting.

Paws are able to be bitten, scratched and infected just as easily as faces. The consequences of paw and leg injuries are in fact more dangerous than injuries to the face. It is hard to hunt when you can't run. There is no benefit to prolonging the exposure to danger by keeping the prey alive.

>It increases the chance of getting a kill, which is what gives the cat food after the hunt

A quick bite to the neck is the best chance of killing. Letting the prey struggle and escape to be re-caught is lowering the chances of getting food, not raising it. You are claiming the opposite of reality.

>That does not explain why feral cats, cats that need to hunt to survive, play with prey.

Yes it does. They only do so when they are teaching young to hunt. They do not play with their prey when they are engaged in the process of "acquire food to prevent death".

>Hunting a laser pointer is chasing prey, it is not playing with prey.

It is engaging in instinctive hunting behaviour for no benefit. Just like catching a mouse, playing with it, then wandering off.


> There is nothing to support the notion that playing with prey reduces injuries to the predator.

All cats play with prey. Thus, it is evolved behaviour. It has some benefit, otherwise cats would just use the killing bite straight away.

> Paws are able to be bitten [...] there is no benefit to prolonging the exposure to danger by keeping the prey alive.

Cats have 4 paws. It's possible for a 3 legged cat to survive. Hard, but possible. The cat prolongs the exposure to danger of redundant limbs in order to protect the jaw.

> A quick bite to the neck is the best chance of killing. Letting the prey struggle and escape to be re-caught is lowering the chances of getting food, not raising it. You are claiming the opposite of reality.

A bite to the neck is the method of killing. Small animals are quick, thus the cat plays with the prey to weaken the animal so that when the cat applies the killing bite the small animal is less likely to escape.

> They only do so when they are teaching young to hunt. They do not play with their prey when they are engaged in the process of "acquire food to prevent death".

This is incorrect.

EDIT: You are incorrect about only one research suggesting that play with prey is a defensive part of hunting behaviour.

Trivial www searching find many different researchers suggesting this.

Here's one:

(http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/bne/102/5/760/)

> In this article, we show that feline predation involves a continuous gradient of activation between defense and attack and that predatory "play" results from an interaction of the two. [...] In such shifts, no sharp demarcation between play and predation was evident. [...] These results suggest that play with prey is a misnomer for predatory behavior that fails to escalate along the gradient between defense and attack. Movement notation analysis revealed that playful movements are adaptive in that they protect the cat from injury.


If we did it purely out of consideration for the well being of animals, then would would apply laws consistently. We punish animal abuse when it happens to dogs, because people get upset about dogs being hurt. We ignore animal abuse when it happens to pigs, because we eat pigs and don't want to have to deal with the ethical dilemma posed by recognizing that they have feelings. The laws are most definitely designed around what is distressing to people in society, not around what is best for the well being of the animals.


Agreed that laws should be consistent but this isn't just a problem with animal cruelty laws.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to be humane to animals, even ones that are ultimately killed for their meat (such as pigs). It's possible for an animal to live a perfectly content life and then be killed quickly and with as little pain as possible. And that's what a lot of people are campaigning for.

Reducing animal cruelty is not at odds with breeding livestock for food. We can have both. And to not support one because you want the other is disingenuous.


You are reading your own extra motivation into what I said. I stated that your premise ("cruelty to animals is punished purely because of ethical considerations for the animal's well being") is false. I provided evidence to support this. That is all. I did not make a moral or ethical statement. I am not suggesting or proposing anything. Simply pointing out that our protection of non-human animals is in fact based on concern for humans, not for the animals in question.


Fair enough; I didn't intend to put words in your mouth. I was responding to what you said about "ignoring animal abuse when it happens to pigs" and just providing a counterpoint to that: that not everybody is ignoring it, and that there's no reason why we should ignore it either (because it's not an "ethical dilemma" -- a "dilemma" presupposes we can't both reduce the suffering of pigs and continue to eat them, except this isn't actually the case because we can do both). I appreciate the point you're trying to make though, that laws are made not just based on ethical considerations, but also based on how people feel about these things.


I realize not everyone ignores it, but I was speaking to the question of law. It is perfectly legal to do things to a pig that will land you in jail if you do them to a dog. And then there's plenty of things that are not legal to do to a pig, that you can do anyways because the law isn't enforced.

It does pose an ethical dilemma. Of course we can reduce the suffering of pigs. Yet we choose not to. We choose not to, because we like cheap pork. This presents us with an ethical dilemma if we actually think about the issue. Most people make a significant effort to avoid thinking about the issue, because they do not want to consider the ethical dilemma of "if I eat this bacon I cause suffering vs if I don't eat this bacon I won't taste bacon". Treating pigs humanely would require a massive increase in pork prices, which would reduce the amount of pork related pleasure people can have, thus a dilemma of its own. Treating pigs as we treat dogs would involve not killing them for food, totally removing the pork pleasure, and again poses a dilemma.


Weird, it's like the law is some sort of bizarre compromise of thousands of points of view, and not an infallible and consistent moral guide. I wonder how that happened.


What is with the totally misplaced and unnecessary snark? I was not criticizing the law, I was pointing out what purpose it is meant to serve (people).


I would just focus a little more on the notion that cruelty to animals is usually a clear indicator of a lack of empathy, which is dangerous to the rest of society when persistently manifest in individuals.

It isn't the general presence of animal suffering in the world that is a problem, it is the intentional infliction of suffering that is the problem, because it means the one doing the infliction is skirting close to the outer edge of empathy.


A 10 month old has no responsibilities. Certainly, though, she has rights.


A rather limited set of rights to be sure. Children, unless emancipated, lack a great deal of the rights that adults enjoy.

Perhaps this is the best way to legally consider dolphins. They have approximately the same rights as human children, until any one of them decides to ask for more.


Short of new mutations, no dolphin has ever, is, or will ever be a fully functioning member of society.

Rules of thumb regarding treatment of immature or disabled humans is not at all appropriate.


Fully functioning in society seems to be setting the bar too high; we don't consider that a prerequisite for rights in humans by any reasonable interpretation.

Now, will dolphins ever communicate their desire to achieve greater legal consideration? Not unless we put some more effort into researching communication with dolphins (and even then, I strongly suspect not). Not really a problem though I think.


we don't consider that a prerequisite for rights in humans by any reasonable interpretation.

You miss my point. It's not a requirement for any individual, but it IS a requirement for members of a species in general. Most humans are functioning members of society. The ones that aren't, whether it's temporary or permanent are protected implicitly and explicitly through social contract and the laws we've created.

No dolphin will ever be a functioning member of our society, thus dolphins are not part of society, thus dolphins do not take on the responsibilities of being in a relationship with humans, thus dolphins are not entitled to parallel status.


>"but it IS a requirement for members of a species in general."

Is it? Considering we have never before in recorded history extended such consideration to another species, it seems unlikely that there are existing standards we can look to.

There are many things you can observe "most" humans doing, but that does not mean those things are all prerequisites for special legal and ethical consideration.


>It's not a requirement for any individual, but it IS a requirement for members of a species in general.

How can you possibly make that sort of generalization when there is only one species that is commonly accepted as having rights?


No, it is not a requirement, that is what the discussion is about. If it were a requirement, we wouldn't be trying to decide if it should be a requirement or not. Using a sample size of one to prove a point is absurd.


I'm not saying it's a proof by statistics. It's a requirement in order for the system to maintain logical consistency.

We can do whatever we want. We can give citizenship rights to gummy bears because they look like real bears and bears have two arms and two legs just like people. It would be illogical and counterproductive to any real advancement for society, though.


Reductio ad absurdum isn't helping your case. You haven't made an argument, just assertions. Why would giving some rights to a non-human animal break "logical consistency"? Just saying it does is meaningless, provide an argument.


Do a grep through this thread for my userid. I've made my argument in several places. Basically, acquiring human status requires interactive and consensual participation in a relationship/society.

Exhibiting some rudimentary social behaviors doesn't qualify as accepting the responsibilities along with the rights accorded with status.


Yes, and lots of people pointed out how that argument is just a red herring. You didn't come back with an actual argument, so pointing back to the fallacious one doesn't accomplish anything.


>a fully functioning member of society

What does that even mean?


I don't know, but I do know that if we all accepted that as a standard we would be in a much worse off place as a society since most times I hear the phrase "fully functioning member of society" the implied alternative is usually "penniless hippy".


Not sure where to start. How about if you imagine that a member of Society defined here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society

Participates in one.


If "participates" in society is sufficient for "fully functioning member of society", then at a minimum, trained dolphins who perform in shows are fully functioning members of society. They have complex interactions with their trainers, including fairly high level communication, and they perform work in exchange for goods (fish).


For that matter, you could make a strong case for dogs as well. How many thousands work for us?


What you are suggesting basically just amounts to "dolphins cannot be a part of society because currently society only includes humans, and dolphins are different than humans."

We are proposing a re-definition.


What you are suggesting ...

That's not in the least what I'm suggesting.

Dolphins cannot participate in our society by agreement. They don't understand what participating is. They're captured or born in captivity and then trained to perform a few tricks. They are beautiful and fascinating, but they have no contributions to make to the fiber of our society that can't be made by other animals, machines, or even simple objects.

They are able to do nothing further. Giving them a new status is just semantics. They are fundamentally not functioning members of our society. Not individually. Not as a species.


What I would like to see is a special legal status/recognition given to dolphins. My motivation for wanting to see this done is that I think it would provide a sort of precedence for extending traditionally human rights to things that are not traditionally seen as equals of humans. I think there is a possibility that doing so may become necessary in the future, when "machines" and intelligence begin to blur.


Black people aren't functioning members of our society either, said Jefferson Davis.

Poor people don't contribute to our fiber of society in a way that can't be replaced by machines, said Mitt Romney.


She has rights because she is human. Her parents and other members of society vouch for her right to a position in society and accept the responsibility of her membership. The practice is so ingrained and a part of the fabric of our society that it's just accepted implicitly.

It has nothing to do with how capable she is of accepting responsibilities in her current state.

Non-humans have no such implicit acceptance of responsibilities and inclusion within the framework of human society by humans.


I always wondered where the assertion of "no rights without responsibilities" came from. Any ideas?


While theorizing tests of animal psyche and self-awareness might be helpful to the purpose, but what we humans forget is the preciseness of agent Smith's evaluation of us:

"I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure." [1]

There is no chance any animal/fish is going to survive the brunt of us 9 billion in next fifty years.

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IM1-DQ2Wo_w


So tired of this meme. Humans are like a virus in the way that every species on the planet is like a virus. Look no further than invasive species to see that any form of life given the ability to expand it's population will do exactly that. The majority of species reach what we view as 'an equilibrium' because they run into the constraints of their environment on a scale small enough for us to make note of, but humans do the exact same thing; only our scale is the entire planet and we haven't run into the constraints yet. The moment humans were intelligent enough to form agriculture is the moment humans inherited this planet.


I totally agree with you here. Just saying that probably treating dolphins as people might not help (or be enough), considering that the size of planet would remain constant but we'll double our density soon.


>There is no chance any animal/fish is going to survive the brunt of us 9 billion in next fifty years.

I won't be so sure considering that unlike a Virus we are aware of the damage we are causing and are already trying to mitigate it.


We can see a 100 ft. wave coming at our rowboat, and some of us are trying to paddle with our hands, and some of us are trying to design a better rowboat (predicting that there is enough time to design/build this before the wave hits), while others are arguing that the wave doesn't exist or will dissipate before it reaches us. I don't have a whole lot of faith.


For one picture I see in future is us inhabiting an exo-planet; and Elon Musk et al showing us that direction and so on...

In this dynamic, we as a virus race will choose the easiest way out even at the cost of all the species of this planet. 9 billion of us will, mark my words, only kill, eat or ridicule whatever that is left of the ecosystem today.

I am actually afraid about cannibalism picking up too in distant hungry countries which are already off balance today. It's pretty grim.

Dolphins will continue to be enslaved, slaughtered or even ridiculed for any "equal treatment" justified exactly the way this thread shows. Ground reality will of course be worse.

To which I do agree with your statement that "we are aware" and that there is an exit for us even though some will definitely try to mitigate, protect and stay behind.


> There is no chance any animal/fish is going to survive the brunt of us 9 billion in next fifty years

I'll take that bet.


"Maybe we'd be better off saying certain categories of animals deserve a higher level of ethical and legal consideration."

Ethicists use the term animal welfare (as opposed to animal rights) for this reason. No one at least at this point thinks that animals should be allowed to vote, which is what equal rights for animals would imply.


Nobody said anything about equal rights, just rights. That's why they want to encourage discussion, to figure out what rights they would be given.


Surely this is mainly due to the language barriers though? If we could fully communicate, what then?


Not sure what fully communicate would mean? Do you suppose that dolphins have some untapped literary and rhetoric ability that once man figures out how to decode, we will be exposed to the a whole host of new great works?


I'd be a lot more sympathetic to the cause of treating dolphins as if they had human rights if we first agreed to treat all humans as if they had human rights.


I find this line of thought extremely tedious. We have never improved as a society by lining up all of our concerns in a nicely organized list by priority, and then tackling everything on the agenda sequentially.

I am reminded of people who scoff at giving money to bums on the grounds that it is an inefficient form of charity. In most cases, here is what happens:

1. Bum asks X for spare change.

2. X thinks "That's not an efficient way to give. I would be better off donating the couple bucks in my pocket to a charity that I have researched carefully."

3. "Sorry I don't have anything on me."

4. X goes and spends the money on a cup of coffee and completely forgets about the incident.

Now, obviously that's not what always happens. But it's what usually happens, and it's ridiculous. I've had people tell me that instead of giving money to homeless people, I should go buy fast food and hand it out. Of course, when asked if they have ever done this themselves, the answer is invariably "no". It's so easy to do nothing instead of something if you can convince yourself that the something is not the absolute ideal.

Finally, affording dolphins human rights is not in conflict with affording humans human rights. We will not delay the process of preventing human rights abuses by also preventing the abuse of dolphins. To ask the question "How can we think about giving dolphins basic rights when so many humans don't have basic rights?" may feel righteous, but it certainly doesn't actually do anything to help either cause. All it does is to reassure yourself that you don't need to worry about the dolphin situation.


I agree with the point you're making - we can address more than one problem at once - but I'm not sure the charity example is the best one.

People have a kind of mental 'karma quota', where once they've done so much good deeds, they don't feel a need to do more. It's a problem for environmental awareness, because people get daft advice like 'unplug your phone charger' (which achieves almost nothing), and then feel they've done their bit.

So the person walking past a homeless man probably won't go and give the same money to charity (hands up, I've done that). But the accumulated guilt might eventually make them go and donate money to something.


So there are actually some countervailing forces at work here. On the one hand, people who have social status associated with ethical behavior tend to be more likely to act unethically (I wish I could find a reference for that offhand, but no matter).

On the other hand, self-image plays a pretty big role in determining behavior. Robert Cialdini discusses this at length in Influence: Science and Practice. He discusses several studies that demonstrate that getting someone to take an action that affects their self-image makes them more likely to make decisions corresponding to that self-image in the future.

For example, researchers divided home owners into two groups. Those in Group A were initially approached and asked to place three-inch signs in their yards saying "be a safe driver", and most of them complied. Group B was not approached initially.

A few weeks after that, the researchers went back to everyone in both groups and asked them if they would be willing to place a large billboard in their yard saying "drive carefully". They were shown a picture example showing a poorly designed billboard so large that it almost entirely obscured the view of the house. Almost everyone in Group B declined. The majority in Group A accepted.

The conclusion of this, and many other experiments is fascinating: people have a powerful drive to behave consistently. We are strongly repulsed by the possibility of hypocrisy. So if you change someone's view of themselves to fit a certain pattern, they will tend to continue to conform to that pattern in the future. So to some degree at least, giving money to a homeless person will create in you an internal psychological pressure to be more altruistic in the future.

And choosing not to give money because you think giving it to charity would be more effective may inadvertently cause you to incorporate "cautious about donating" into your self-image, and cause you to have more difficulty with future altruism. After all, what if you gave money to the Red Cross instead of the homeless person, and then found out that they weren't such a great charity after all? You'd look like a hypocrite for being cautious with the bum, but not with the Red Cross. Your brain is very good at anticipating "I'll look like a hypocrite" and avoiding it, even when the end result is worse for everyone.

Incidentally, if you find this stuff fascinating (or terrifying), I highly recommend Cialdini's book. But it might make you a little paranoid about salespeople and marketers.


Yep, slavery exists to this day in many parts of Africa and India. That should be our first concern.


Our first, yes, but not our only. Otherwise, dolphins and whales might be extinct soon. There's nothing preventing you from supporting both, say, Amnesty International and Sea Sheperd, or Médecins Sans Frontières and Greenpeace - or all of them. This is not a binary decision.


No one is stopping you from helping fix the problem of slavery, especially not animal rights advocates.


To be clear, it exists in most/all countries, even here in the states thanks to human trafficking.


But first we need to find out exactly which slaves have it the worst, and free all of them. We can't go around doing good things for anyone other than the absolute worst off people. Luckily this means we can spend all our time debating who has it worst instead of doing anything to help anyone.


This is snarcky but it points out as strongly as possible what is so wrong with prioritization of good causes, it should pop out automatically every time someone tries to discuss this. And I would like to add that there are enougth amount of humans for caring about all the good causes.


I suspect that "We" have agreed. That doesn't mean everyone has. It is unlikely that everyone will, unless of course we exclude some people from our definition of everyone. Shirley, this is not your intent.

Philosophically, placing human rights first is inherently inconsistent with the foundation of extending "equal" rights to other species.


Indeed. These are some other headlines on the BBC sidebar at the moment:

    Deadly car bombings rock Syria
    S Korea shuts nuclear reactors
    Two killed in Bahrain explosions


Note that none of those involved dolphins.

Maybe they're more civilized than we are.


Ok, so if dolphins were given the same rights as humans, what is done when one dolphin kills another dolphin or other offenses[1]?

1) http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2009/05/13/dolphins_are...


If we are on the subject of what animals it is ethical to hunt, etc., how about more strongly protecting the Great Apes (chimps, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans) as they are our closest cousins in nature? Whales are more a rival, than anything else.


I'd like to reference an argument presented here before when this same issue came up.

Japanese harvest ships slaughter thousands of dolphins each year, in a certain bay. Some escape. Next year, more olphins return to the bay and are caught, seemingly by surprise?

SO either, the escaped dolphins did not communicate the danger, were unable to communicate, or just didn't care what happened to other dolphins.

In any of those cases, do we have the duty to protect the lives of dolphins? Either they are not intelligent, not communicative, or have no racial ethic that values dolphin life. Why would we?


You are making a whole lot of unfounded assumptions. Who says those that escape knew the fate of those that didn't? Who says they have a choice as to where to go? Perhaps they need to be in that area at that time because that is where their food is at that time. The options you present are not even remotely close to exhaustive, yet you hide behind their totality for your excuse to avoid considering the issue at all.


Dolphins are among the freest creatures in the ocean, traveling vast distances in little time and pretty much independent. And I'm sure something drives them to be in that bay at that time; its just not a higher intelligence, by all the evidence. Thus the tendency to reinforce: dolphins are dumb animals.

So this argument isn't 'considering the issue at all'? Then what's it about? Some other issue? Would a personal attack have been more on-point? (sarcasm)


And Rwandans are clearly subhuman unintelligent for trying to return home after the war instead of wandering across African desert in new directions.


This bay is 'home'? To a creature free to roam the ocean at will, live anywhere with equal facility? THe analogy doesn't hold.


Your reply did not add anything to what you originally said. You are making the assumption that dolphins are stupid because humans manage to kill them. And then you are using that faulty assumption as a reason to excuse yourself from considering the issue.


One more try: dolphins may not be very intelligent because they cannot or won't communicate between themselves. Or their ethics are unfathomable to us because they don't seem to value dolphin life as humans do human life.

Got it? That's the entirety of the argument. If you'd like to address that argument, great. If you just want to agitate for dolphin right by shouting down argument, then fell free, I'm done.


I got your argument. And addressed it. In the first post. You have made two additional posts which have added absolutely no information to the first, and have not addressed the flaws of your argument. Again, there are many other explanations for what you observe besides "dolphins are dumb" and "dolphins don't care about each other". Given that we have evidence of dolphins being smart, and them caring about each other (and humans even), your assumptions are not likely to be correct.


Ah! A post actually related to the argument! SO now we can have a discussion.

Dolphins are of course very 'dumb'; its taken years of hard research to come up with any evidence of intelligence, and its all indirect. Why we even bothered? Probably because of their large-ish brain, which turns out is an elaborate visual cortex (ok, sonar cortex, same thing).

They play; they have family units, at least for a while. Is this intelligence? Crows do all that too; many other mammals also.

Caring for humans is anecdotal. My favorite one is, people adrift from shipwreck get pushed to shore by dolphins. This suffers from observer bias - dolphins love to play with floaty things, and push them around. All the sailors pushed out to sea don't tell their storey.

May dolphins be intelligent? Ok, sure. But as they don't have societies, inventions, any more language than many birds, their intelligence is very much more similar to other 'lower' animals than human.

Maybe its a different kind of intelligence? That's reaching, kind of making up things to fit a desired conclusion, but ok. Then the 3rd argument in my original post: its a kind of intelligence that doesn't extend to saving one anothers' lives. If even one escaped dolphin mentioned "I got out of there; all my family are missing, plus two other pods I know of; maybe we should stay away from that bay", we would have fabulous evidence of an intelligent society sharing the planet with us. Observably not happening, so one could conclude (I never said I conclude this, thats your projection) that they are of an intelligence too small to permit that communication. In fact, occams razor damands this conclusion.


Adding "yeah but I don't believe science" to your non-argument doesn't improve it. You are still making the same baseless assumptions, just with the addition of suggesting that you alone possess the knowledge required to determine the intelligence of dolphins, and all those people who spent their lives studying them are dumbasses.


It always seemed to me that our lack of consideration for these animals as "non-human persons" only serves to demonstrate a failure of empathy on our part, solely because we are unable to communicate with them. We don't know whether dolphins have a formal language yet, but we do know they can communicate with each other, and if we ever figure out a way to communicate with them too it'd probably go a long way to convincing people that they deserve rights.

It's the height of arrogance to assume the humans are the only species on this planet that deserve these rights. And it's not helped by animal rights organisations, that preach that all animals deserve equal rights to humans, which is an absurdity that doesn't help their cause, since it drives more reasonable people away from the idea that some animals really do deserve these rights.


Human rigths were created not because we believe we deserve those, but as a tool to keep the peace among us. So the sad true is that most of us don't have a strong intrinsic motivation to grant rights to animals, one of the reasons being that they are not a thread to our existence; but even if they were the impossibility of communication would make any agreement (aka mutual rights) impossible.


Sorry, but I'm going to need a Dolphin declaration of independence, armed revolution and ability to self sustain through value creation first.


"Humans believe they are more intelligent than dolphins because they have achieved so much - New York, the wheel, wars, and so on - while all the dolphins ever did was mess around in the water having a good time. Conversely, dolphins believe that they are more intelligent than humans for precisely the same reason." - Douglas Adams


By "armed revolution" you're implying that someone has rights only if they are able to defend them. While that seems pragmatic, it actually destroys the definition of "rights".

Saying "X has a right to live" means "you shouldn't kill X." That's a completely different statement from "you will not be able to kill X."

Morality is concerned with what you are obligated to do or not do, apart from your preferences or abilities.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thrasymachus

This has been hashed out before. Doesn't go well for "rights" in the sense you mean.


I think it could easily be argued that the dolphins' way of life is more sustainable than ours... Probably not the best line of argument!


In the long term? No way. Only humans have the potential to spread themselves off this rock and throughout the solar system and beyond. Dolphins are limited to where we take them.


Conversely, only humans have the ability to wipe all forms of intelligent life off this planet and hasten their own destruction.

Furthermore, you could've made the same comment about us [humans] just a few thousand years ago. And considering the rate of evolution compared to the length of time this planet is going to be around for, it's probably a bad idea to extrapolate the fate of dolphins in the future based on their current capabilities.


"Only humans have the potential to spread themselves off this rock and throughout the solar system and beyond. Dolphins are limited to where we take them."

This wasn't always the case, and may not be true in a million years.


You think humans chasing small fish around in the surf is a superior way to live? Seriously?

There is nothing stopping you...just keep walking west. :)


So long, and thanks for all the fish!


A baby can't self-sustain, is it ok if I kill it?

Someone that is brain-dead can't self-sustain, are there no legal/ethical qualms if I pull the plug?

Are disabled people open season for abuse because they are 'lesser' than the rest of us?


You are being rhetorical, but the answers are obvious to the many people who engage in these antisocial behaviors.


> It is based on years of research that has shown dolphins and whales have large, complex brains and a human-like level of self-awareness

How did they conclude dolphins and whales are self-aware comparatively to humans? That seems like quite a large claim to make and the argument significantly hinges on this.

I wasn't aware of any scientific method to prove self awareness.


We'll always have the Matrix problem where it's hard to "prove" self-awareness in others (Descartes does a pretty shitty job), but inasmuch as we have reason to assume other humans have self-awareness, most scientists feel comfortable making the same assumption for animals that pass the mirror test and do well on metacognitive tests where they grade their own mental processes. Examples of the latter include the "pass" test described in the article as well as tests Herbert Terrace conducted in which monkeys were asked to perform various tasks and, each time, bet a number of M&Ms proportional to how confident they were in their solution. Sure enough, they tended to bet a lot on answers they got right and much less on ones they got wrong.

Note that such tests, especially the mirror test, aren't bijective. If you pass the mirror test, we can be reasonably sure you're self-aware. However, if you don't pass the mirror test (which I didn't as a toddler), that doesn't mean you can't be self-aware.


A program a watched a long time ago showed researchers working with dolphins. They would draw something with a marker on the side of the dolphin, and then it would race to an underwater mirror and contort its body to view the mark. The researchers said that this demonstrated self-awareness. As for being compared to humans, meh. I donno.


Since I did not see this program I have to ask; did they reward the dolphin in any way for performing this task?



Usually in this context, "self-aware" is usually used to indicate the ability to recognize one's own image, voice, smell, etc. The research referred to is mostly several experiments of showing dolphins to a mirror and determining that they can recognize a) That they are looking at a reflection, not a window, and b) They are able to distinguish themselves from other dolphins.

This only applies to one (quite narrow and literal) definition of self-awareness, mind you, but it's something you only see in apes and dolphins.


You also need scientific experiments in order to argue that humans are self-aware. Indeed, young humans aren't self-aware, hence Piaget's classic experiments on development to show the emegence of self-awareness.

The article does allude to a couple of experiments in the article ("pass" option if they can't answer a question, self-recognition in a mirror). I agree it needs to be studied in more depth to make these assumptions and certainly to confer new rights.


I applaud this. It's time we stop drawing the line of where rights begin and end at the species barrier and start taking a characteristics based approach. What are the characteristics of a human that lead us to say one should have rights? If other species share those characteristics, they too should be granted those rights.


As a species, humans agree to basic rules of conduct that form an implied Social Contract.

Can any non-human species do that?


> As a species, humans agree to basic rules of conduct that form an implied Social Contract. Can any non-human species do that?

A great question, and the answer is yes. Here's a clear example:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAFQ5kUHPkY Monkeys cooperate to solve a problem, and one of them clearly shows a sense of social contract when he gives a reward to his partner, even though he could easily keep it for himself.

Studies have shown that animals definitely have an innate sense of fair play: http://twentytwowords.com/2012/10/08/monkey-hilariously-reac...

The above study has been replicated on a variety of animals.


Certainly a potential example from the past could perhaps be found in the social relations humans had with our close relatives. The relationships between Neanderthal and Cro-Magon is contested and ultimately largely unknown, however it seems likely there was some recognition of each other involved as something other than mere beasts.


Certainly a potential example from the past

Sorry, my question was rhetorical in reference to existing species, not a search for prior art.

If Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon did recognize each other with special status, that would be more of an example of the level of equality that would need to functionally exist between two species in order for there to be a real "understanding".

That level of relative equality in no way exists between humans and cetaceans, so proposals to pretend that they deserve equal status seems illogical to me. What's next, chickens have eyes like humans so we can't eat them? Green beans react to stimulii, humans do too, no eating green beans?

Slippery slopes, thy name is PETA.


I think a relationship between humans and Neanderthal would demonstrate that relationships can be established with at least that level of dis-simularity. It would not necessarily be the lowest bound.


I thought the Cro-Magnons hunted down and ultimately exterminated the Neanderthals. Have there been any discoveries about their interaction?


There is some evidence of interbreeding, but more importantly, there is some evidence of cultural exchange.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cro-Magnon#Neanderthals

All if this tends to be very wishy-washy.


Well, we interbred.


Which admittedly does not necessarily suggest any form of mutual recognition. Instances of cultural exchange I think are more suggestive.

Perhaps the better question is, if Neanderthals were to somehow come back and enter the modern world, would we accept extending some sort of ethical consideration to them? I think we undoubtedly would.

The current deficient of other species that we all accept as special in some way in no way suggests that inter-species relationships of that sort are impossible.


> if Neanderthals were to somehow come back and enter the modern world, would we accept extending some sort of ethical consideration to them?

Some people think neanderthals and humans mixed genes.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal_genome_project)

> the project published their results in the May 2010 journal Science detailing an initial draft of the Neanderthal genome based on the analysis of four billion base pairs of Neanderthal DNA. The study determined that some mixture of genes occurred between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans and presented evidence that elements of their genome remain in that of non-African modern humans.

But some people think this genetic overlap is the result of a common ancestor, and not from interbreeding.

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/aug/14/study-doubt-hu...)

We give special consideration to primates - not just because they're rare but because they're close relatives to humans. Vivisection is limited pretty strictly if you're using non-human primates.

Would there be much difference between a chimp and a neanderthal? Neanderthals had the FOXp2 gene, and a hyoid bone, so they might have had language. Hunting is a complex activity, and so there's strong possibility that they needed language.

I guess having a language would be enough to guarantee extra protections?

(Having said all this, modern humans happily butcher each other every day, so who knows what'll happen for dolphins or hypothetical Neanderthals.)


This is all true.

Carve out a new nation of only Neanderthal, and I suspect we will go at it like we were making up for old time. Pop a few Neanderthal down in the middle of London, raising the first few to be familiar with human civilization (to the extent that this may be possible), and I would be a bit more optimistic about the outcome.

How we treat others seems to have a lot more to do with context than merit.


One of them has become a lawyer, and another sells car insurance.


We don't know if they can do that. You might say we can observe their behaviour, but would an entity as intelligent as us, but who cannot communicate with us, draw this conclusions by observing us? I doubt it. If you don't know our "reasons" to have wars, or why some humans are starving while other humans are throwing food away and so on, would you think that we have any "Social Contract" at all? I also can't really say I'm convinced that we do...


So... when dolphins gangs of male bottlenose dolphins isolate a single female and forcibly mate with her... we charge them with rape, right?


    Man has always assumed that he was more intelligent than
    dolphins because he had achieved so much... the wheel, 
    New York, wars and so on... while all the dolphins had
    ever done was muck about in the water having a good time.
    But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that
    they were far more intelligent than man... for precisely
    the same reason.


We need to be very careful here. There are those (not myself) who would contend that a fetus is a "person", thereby implying that abortion is "murder". I disagree with that, but if we say cetaceans are "persons" than is whaling then "murder"? Are we calling the Eskimo tribes who to this day hunt whales as part of their cultural tradition "murderers"? I am all for conservation, don't get me wrong, but willy-nilly throwing around the word "person" is not helpful, it is not helpful in the debate about reproductive choice and it is not helpful in the conservation debate either.

A more general idea that the more "conscious" (variously defined) an entity is, the more it should be treated humanely. That makes sense to me, and to most people I would think. But we need to figure out how to do this with getting into ethical quandaries like the ones outlined.


Are we calling the Eskimo tribes who to this day hunt whales as part of their cultural tradition "murderers"?

Would you call the cannibalistic tribes who hunt neighbouring tribes and eat them in holy rituals murderers?


Yes, I call cannibalistic tribes murderers (provided any still exist, hopefully not). But my point is to not rush to make simplistic categories. My attitude on these and related issues is that it is enough work, more than enough work, for me to figure out how to live my own life ethically, without spending energies casting judgements upon others. Personally, I would never hunt dolphins or whales - I don't like hunting anyway and would not do that, heck, I take insects outside when I find them inside rather than stepping on them, lol - more seriously, yes, I find this research very compelling and for these reasons the concept of harming sentient beings is very troubling to me, and would not want to hunt a dolphin or a whale any more than, say, a visitor from another planet. That said, these are still complex issues which science can inform upon, but we need also to understand that in nature, in biology, one's own species is the priority, and so the "better angels of our nature" may and hopefully do go towards wanting humane treatment for more sentient creatures, but also let's not get on a bully pulpit on sensitive and complex matters. Again, I have found it is hard enough to try and be an ethical person for oneself, without trying to be judge and jury over others. That is my only point with the Eskimo tribe reference. :-)


Be careful with this comparison. The issue with abortion as murder is "when" a fetus becomes a person, not "if."


"When you place dolphins in a situation like that they respond in exactly the same way humans do" – I doubt any human would just play along with this boring game.


Sociologists DO get boring when designing experiments, don't they?


Philosophically related Podcast [About 15 minutes] on animal abolitionism with Gary Francione at Philosophy Bites.

It contains a well reasoned critique of Peter Singer's approach to animal rights which has become mainstream.

http://philosophybites.com/2012/10/gary-l-francione-on-anima...


Rights come with Obligations, so as long as they pay their taxes too, I'm OK with this


No they don't. Obviously not. Human rights are inalienable (though sometimes rights clash and then you need a mechanism to decide which one wins).


The UN has said that broadband Internet is a basic human right. This is starting to get difficult.


Internet access is a basic human right because it vastly improves the quality of human life.

Would internet access be a basic dolphin right? They didn't build it...


Neither did I...


I thought this was one of those negative rights, i.e. it doesn't have to be given to you, it just can't be taken from you.


Not given, but

“Each state should thus develop a concrete and effective policy to make the Internet widely available, accessible, and affordable to all segments of population.”

This can imply more than negative rights, in certain cases, but certainly not "free internet for everyone".


Interesting. It's always important when talking about "rights" to distinguish between negative and positive rights. Thanks for giving me a more fleshed out version there.


Not necessarily. Human infants have rights even if they are orphans with unknown family lineage. I don't think anyone wants to grant Dolphins the right to vote either. Just some basic protections, such as the right not to be killed without proper justification.


I'd say that rights don't come with obligations inherently. I believe a month-old baby has a right to live, and all it ever does is poop and cry.


That's not how things work. Some people never pay taxes, but have rights.


Don't most countries have fishing quotas within territorial waters as well? Not sure dolphins and whales will be happy with this.


Show me one dolphin who has exceeded quota.


People that don't have jobs don't have to pay taxes. (Except sales tax)


but they do get the dole.


It probably won't be long until we say the same thing about some "strong AI" robots.


If it's really "strong AI", whether some humans want to grant the AI "rights" or not is irrelevant. Kind of like ants deciding whether humans should get a share of the harvest.


Don't elephants have the same kind of self awareness? There are certainly plenty of stories of elephants helping each other...


As soon as dolphins show that they can respect my rights, I'll grant them rights.


No dolphin has ever bitten and eaten anyone I know.


I'm okay with this.


I think I'm okay with it, but it is a slippery slope. It reminds me of the abortion wars. People want to find a hard line for "when life starts" in a continuum. There's no such thing. I think the same thing could be said of all of the qualities that lead to our notion of personhood.


so long and thanks for all the fish..?

aquatic jerks?


P


I believe ALL animals deserve the same rights as humans, and I treat them with the same measure of respect. I have for years.


Dolphins voting you say. Obama, to the aquarium!




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